E. Coli Infection From Food or Water: Blood and Kidney Problems

Topic Overview

Severe problems affecting the blood and kidneys may develop in a small number of people (5% to 10%) infected with E. coli O157:H7 who get sick enough to go to the hospital.1 These problems include anemia, a low number of platelets in the blood, the formation of small blood clots, and kidney (renal) failure.

Sometimes brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) complications also develop. Serious long-term damage to the kidneys and nervous system, as well as death, can occur.

This set of problems is known as either hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) or thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). These two conditions are now thought to be different forms of the same disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome or thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura may include:

  • Pale skin (caused by anemia).
  • Weakness or fatigue (caused by anemia).
  • Passing only small amounts of urine.
  • Small dark patches or dots on the skin (purpura).
  • Nervous system problems. Examples include:
    • Irritability.
    • Tiredness or lack of energy.
    • Seizures.
    • Coma.
    • Inability to move one side of the body.
  • Long-term nervous system complications. Examples include:

People who have been diagnosed with E. coli infection should be monitored carefully for these problems. This is especially important for children and older adults. They should have blood and urine tests rather than waiting for symptoms to develop. Monitoring should begin as soon as the diagnosis is made and continue for 2 weeks after diarrhea starts.

Risk factors

The following factors may put you at higher-than-average risk of developing blood and kidney problems from E. coli infection:

  • Being treated with antibiotics
  • Being a very young child or an elderly adult
  • Being treated with antidiarrheal medicines
  • Having bloody diarrhea
  • Having a high white blood cell count
  • Having a high fever

References

Citations

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC). Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/ecoli_o157h7/index.html.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Current as of June 4, 2014

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